Buckhannon eases zoning restrictions on Wesleyan

BUCKHANNON – An ordinance passed recently by Buckhannon City Council is designed to ease certain zoning restrictions to allow West Virginia Wesleyan College to plan and develop its campus.

According to the ordinance, Wesleyan is zoned as R-2, or Residential District A. But this is not an appropriate zoning for the many non-residential uses and activities that occur on the campus, according to city officials.

The ordinance created some controversy at the last City Council meeting, passing by a 3-2 margin with two council members absent. It establishes the campus, as well as four acres owned by 18 private individuals, as a college district. Letters were sent out to the 18 private individuals notifying them of a public hearing on the proposed ordinance. A few residents had questions about the ordinance, but none objected to it.

Dr. Barry Pritts is the vice president for administration and finance at Wesleyan. According to Pritts, there are 15 specific uses permitted within the R-2 zoning language, the majority of which do not pertain to the operations of Wesleyan. Pritts said one use in the R-2 language only vaguely permits the operation of colleges.

Pritts said the ordinance makes zoning more consistent for the college. The college does not want to create problems for its neighbors.

“We still have to follow the rules just like everyone else,” he said. “This gives us much better collaborative and coordinating efforts than we’ve ever had. We’re all neighbors and we have been neighbors for a long time.”

The college zoning ordinance outlines 12 permitted property uses.

The ordinance permits any and all higher education related uses, “including but not limited to instructional facilities such as classrooms, laboratories, meeting and conference rooms, faculty and administrative offices, libraries and audio and video media centers.”

It also permits residential facilities “typically associated with college student and/or faculty housing, including but not limited to dormitories, lounges, apartment complexes, and fraternity, sorority and other dwelling houses, but not including mobile homes.”

The legislation allows facilities that serve meals and beverages “primarily but not exclusively to members of the campus community, and including but not limited to cafeterias, restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, bakeries and ice cream and yogurt parlors.”

The ordinance also allows indoor and outdoor facilities “for athletic, sporting, training or recreational purposes, including but not limited to fields, courts, tracks, trails, gymnasiums, exercise complexes and swimming pools, and also specifically including the city of Buckhannon’s River Walk Trail and the Buckhannon River Boat Ramp.”

Also permitted are “any and all indoor or outdoor facilities associated with the performing arts or aesthetic entertainment, including but not limited to musical, theatrical, dance and cinematic productions or exhibitions.”

The college zone also allows “retail establishments typically associated with college functions, including but not limited to the sale of books, apparel, groceries and sundries.” It also permits “facilities associated with the conducting of meetings and conferences.”

The ordinance permits facilities “associated with the delivery of technology, data, telephony, television and radio, including but not limited to towers, poles, conduit and coaxial or fiberoptic lines whether installed above or below ground.”

The zone also allows facilities “associated with human, medical or wellness care, as administered by physicians, nurses, counselors, trainers, etc., for the benefit of any campus community member.”

The ordinance also allows for improvements “including but not limited to building and structure improvements and maintenance, such as landscaping, carpentry, painting, plumbing, masonry, mechanical and electrical work and the storage and warehousing of all reasonable or necessary vehicles, machinery, equipment, tools, materials and any/all other personal properties.”

The college zone also will allow “miscellaneous offices and facilities including the campus post office, the service center for document assembly and photocopying, laundry services and the campus security office.”

Finally, the ordinance permits “any and all parking lots, provided that the surface is improved with asphalt, concrete or compacted gravel and satisfies both ADA requirements and any city storm water drainage requirements.”

The ordinance also specifically states that a number of other city ordinances apply to the college zone, including ordinances regarding the appearance of lots, fences and hedges, structures and walls, storage tanks, vehicle entrances and exits, surface water run-off and many others.

At the end of each year, the college must file a written report to assist with the city’s comprehensive plan. This information will be filed with the city administrator, as well as the city zoning and housing enforcement officer and the city’s planning commission.

The report must identify all real estate in the college district acquired by Wesleyan since the previous year’s report. Additionally, the school must identify all new construction projects, buildings targeted for razing, matters that impact parking, traffic flow, sidewalk improvements and development and signage.

The report also must identify any project for which the college may seek municipal bond assistance in the year following the report’s filing.

The ordinance calls for the report to be shared liberally by the city, city attorney David McCauley said.

While the ordinance gives the college more consistency in its zoning, the requirement of an annual report also creates more responsibility for Wesleyan.

“They’re going to have to do a lot of extra work compiling this written report to assist with the city’s comprehensive plan development,” he said.

Buckhannon zoning officer Rich Clemens said the provisions in the ordinance apply to the residents who live within the college district as well. In other words, they would have the same flexibility regarding property use as the college.